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MIL OSI Translation. Region: Russian Federation –

The facades of some buildings in Moscow at the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries resemble the familiar from childhood towers from folk tales. Who built them in this style and why? Each of the houses has its own story, sometimes almost fabulous, sometimes epic.

In November, Moscow took first place at the regional stage of the World Travel Awards 2020 in the nomination “Best Destination for Cultural Exploration in Europe”… Not the least role in this was played by the amazing buildings built at the turn of the last century and the last century. They seem fabulous because of their towers and the firebirds and flowers of paradise depicted on the facades. And you can write a separate fairy tale about each of them. The stories of the most famous Moscow tower houses are in the article.

Russian towers

Cockerels, windows of various shapes, high reliefs-snakes, sirens and phoenixes on wall panels … It seems that Pertsova’s apartment building in the neo-Russian style on Prechistenskaya embankment is a decoration for Russian fairy tales about Ivan Tsarevich, the Serpent Gorynych, Koschey the Immortal.

“Such buildings are called fabulous by non-specialists, who immediately recall the illustrations by Ivan Bilibin and Viktor Vasnetsov. In fact, the creators of these houses had a different concept. After the abolition of serfdom in 1861, representatives of the people and the creative intelligentsia looked for ways of self-identification, turned to the origins of Russian architecture, especially northern architecture, and tried to adapt it to the needs of modern people. This is how the neo-Russian (pseudo-Russian) style appeared: a gable roof made of gable elements with skates, a brick pattern, panels based on sketches of folk embroidery. Something similar to the chambers of the XVI-XVII centuries, when European influence was not yet felt in Russia, “explains Philip Smirnov, a local historian and editor-in-chief of the Moscow Heritage magazine.

The main customers of the “fairy-tale” mansions were Russian entrepreneurs, such as, for example, Pyotr Pertsov. He patronized art and once decided to build a tenement house for artists and painters. Ironically, this project became a salvation for another well-known philanthropist and theater-goer – Savva Mamontov. In 1900, he was forced to use his property, including the Metropol theater, to pay debts, and, in order not to go bankrupt, took up folk crafts in the Abramtsevo workshops. It was at this time that Pertsov was planning his house with the artist Sergei Malyutin and ordered a panel from Abramtsevo.

“Vrubel, Malyutin and Petrov-Vodkin worked with him (with Savva Mamontov. – comment). And in the city, tiled paintings on Russian themes began to appear. One of these paintings is a polychrome panel on the Pertsova house, ”says Philip Smirnov. This panel depicts the sun with a human face, under whose rays fantastic flowers rise.

The merchant Nikolai Igumnov, the owner of the Yaroslavl large manufactory, also erected a pseudo-Russian tower for himself according to the project of the city Yaroslavl architect Nikolai Pozdeev: with towers, kokoshniks, scarlet flowers and firebirds on porcelain tiles.

“This mansion on Yakimanka is unusual in that it was built from foreign materials. Brick, for example, was brought from Holland. It was subjected to repeated firing, as a result of which it became like a stone, ”says Philip Smirnov.

Another example of fabulous chambers with pointed and round towers and a fortress wall is the Yaroslavsky railway station. He also has an unusual story. The building was rebuilt several times in connection with the extension of the Northern Railway, and when a train was launched from Moscow to Arkhangelsk, the architect Fyodor Shekhtel was invited to expand the station.

“The architect has just returned from Glasgow, where his North Russian wooden pavilion was demonstrated at the exhibition. When the exhibition ended, residents of Glasgow asked not to disassemble the exhibit, but to leave it to them. Shekhtel was so inspired by this success that he decided to remake the Yaroslavl (at that time Severny) railway station in a pseudo-Russian style, ”explains the local historian.

The theme of northern architecture formed the basis for another building. Peter Shchukin, a collector of ancient Russian monuments (primarily from the Russian North) wished to put his treasures in the museum. He proposed to the architect Boris Freidenberg, the author of the Sandunov Baths, to develop a project that would correspond in its form to the exhibits. The architect settled on a red-brick mansion with asymmetric towers of different heights and a steep porch. This architecture was typical for Yaroslavl. In the 90s of the 19th century, the house was built on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street.

“Since we were talking about Russian antiquities and values, Shchukin set Freudenberg a clear task – to create a house-chest. The architect coped with the task, ”adds Philip Smirnov. Now the collector’s mansion houses State Biological Museum named after K.A. Timiryazeva.

The historical appearance of the buildings of the new and old museums has been almost completely preserved to this day. For the first time, it is planned to carry out a comprehensive restoration in the estate: in August Moscow City Heritage approved the project of the necessary work… Experts will strengthen the foundations and brickwork of the walls, tidy up the roofs, restore historical windows and doors, and recreate their lost elements using archival documents. The premises will also be restored. For example, they will restore the lost marble slabs with mosaic inserts on the floors, stucco decoration and ornamental painting.

By the way, a similar story, according to the local historian, is at the Tsvetkovskaya gallery on Prechistenskaya embankment. The collector Ivan Tsvetkov has been collecting works of Russian artists for many years and one day he wanted to find a suitable “box” for his paintings. At the beginning of the 20th century, the embankment was decorated with a red-brick gingerbread house with glazed kokoshnik frames and tiled inserts depicting birds of paradise and flowers – a project by Viktor Vasnetsov.

The artist Viktor Vasnetsov also designed a house in the pseudo-Russian style for himself in Troitsky Lane (now Vasnetsov Lane). “He was an ardent supporter of this trend in architecture. I built a house that would inspire him, ”says Philip. This wooden mansion-tower combines different architectural elements. One room resembles boyar’s chambers, another – a peasant hut, the third – a temple from a log house.

Thanks to Viktor Vasnetsov and the Tretyakov Gallery in Lavrushinsky Lane, a facade in the form of a Russian tower with kokoshnik frames appeared.

“It had its own task – to show the collection of paintings to the general public, in particular to ordinary people: peasants, commoners, bourgeois. And they were closer to the popular print style, so the architecture showed an aesthetics close to the people, ”says Philip Smirnov.

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Castles and palaces

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Art Nouveau became a popular Moscow architectural style, referring not to Russian fairy tales, but to European epics.

“The first mansion in Moscow in the Art Nouveau style is the house of the architect Lev Kekushev in Glazovsky Lane, built in 1901. But the master was cramped there. In addition, there were people willing to buy his house. And when Kekushev was offered an amount three times the real value, he agreed to sell it. With this money, he bought a plot of land on Ostozhenka, built a new mansion and registered it with his wife Anna, ”says Philip.

This mansion, or rather a medieval castle with a stucco of climbing plants and a round tower under a gabled roof-hat, began to be called the Kekusheva’s house. The building was crowned with a pommel – a sculpture of a lion. This is how the master signed his works, playing on the name Lev. The wife of the architect settled in the castle instead of the princess. But the tale turned out to be without a happy ending: Anna Kekusheva left her husband for his assistant, and the house remained with her.

Another story is connected with the sculpture of a lion, which mysteriously disappeared from the roof of the mansion after the revolution. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find the original statue, and almost a century later, restorers returned the three-meter lion to its place. They recreated the sculpture from old archival photographs. The specialists also restored the historical look to the facades of the house, and the original layout of the premises. In 2018, Kekusheva’s mansion won the competition “Moscow restoration”.

According to Philip Smirnov, Russian Art Nouveau was often eclectic, included elements of different styles, and sometimes the houses turned out to be so whimsical that customers refused to buy them. They seemed too incomprehensible and alien. One of the unusual projects was the mansion of Fyodor Shekhtel. In Ermolaevsky Lane, he erected a fairytale castle with an observation deck, a dome, a mosaic floor and wrought iron gratings.

“It was a kind of demonstration of the architect’s capabilities. He wanted to show future clients that in our city, in Russia, it is really possible to build such palaces. The architect generally built “talking” buildings. In one of his mansions he cut through a nine-meter window and folded a giant fireplace, in which a 185-centimeter person could stand at full height, ”says the local historian.

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Fortress and pagoda

Some architects inscribed in the history of Moscow streets not just fabulous, but exotic subjects: they designed houses, the meaning of which remained a mystery to their contemporaries. Such is the mansion of the merchant Arseny Morozov on Vozdvizhenka.

“In the early twentieth century, many entrepreneurs traveled to Portugal, inspired by the local bloodless revolution of 1908-1910. At that time, the Russian public was wondering if this experience could be applied here, ”explains Philip.

Arseny Morozov also went to Portugal in the company of architect Viktor Mazyrin. There, the merchant was inspired by the royal palace “Pena” in Sintra, built in the Moorish style with elements of Manueline (architectural style, a variant of the Portuguese Renaissance, named after King Manuel I the Blessed). The merchant wanted a similar mansion in Moscow, and Mazyrin supported his idea. The result is a white fortress with jagged towers and arched windows, shell-shaped stucco molding, a knight’s hall, and Arabic and Chinese interiors.

Nobody appreciated Arseny’s idea, not even his mother. According to legend, she said: “I used to know that you were a fool, but now all of Moscow will know!” By the way, Morozov did not live long in this fortress: in one of his carousing, he shot himself in the foot on a bet and died of blood poisoning at the age of 35.

The house-pagoda on Myasnitskaya (tea shop), which belonged to the merchant Sergei Perlov, also caused bewilderment among the Muscovites of that era. The Perlov brothers, Sergei and Semyon, traded in tea and competed with each other. Having learned that the Chancellor of the Chinese Empire Li Hongzhang was going to Moscow, they argued over which of them would be able to receive the official.

After the death of his father, Semyon Perlov was given the house on Prospect Mira (building 5), rebuilt by Roman Klein. And on Myasnitskaya, the facade of the newly built house by Klein was altered by the architect Karl Gippius, his assistant. Roman Klein himself refused – he did not want to spoil his creation with the bad taste of the customer. Sergei asked Gippius to remake the mansion in the Chinese style. As a result, the facade of the building was decorated with a turret-pagoda, like in a Buddhist temple, bells, ornaments in the form of hieroglyphs, dragons, bamboo appeared. But the Chinese fairy tale failed: the politician honored Semyon with the presence, and did not even look to Sergei.

The former Perlov tea shop was recognized as a cultural heritage site of federal significance, and in October this year, the subject of protection was approved. The experts described all the architectural and decorative elements that form the appearance of the historic building and its interiors. Specialists consider the interior decoration of the house to be especially valuable: it is a coffered ceiling with gilded ornaments and paintings, lanterns, and carved wooden decor. By the way, furniture and some interior items, such as display cabinets and two Chinese one and a half meter vases, have survived since the opening of the store.

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The tale does not end

Today, most of the “fairy” buildings are located diplomatic corps or embassies of foreign states. So, in the Tsvetkovskaya gallery and Pertsova’s house – the diplomatic corps of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in the Shekhtel mansion – the residence of the Ambassador of Uruguay, in the Igumnov house – the residence of the Ambassador of the French Republic.

“When during the Soviet period diplomatic relations were established with other countries, our government tried to offer them the best mansions built relatively recently for those times,” explains Philip Smirnov.

The local historian believes that the interest of Muscovites in these houses is understandable. Many now do not leave the city limits, walk the streets of the capital in their free time and gaze at the painted facades, which they probably did not notice before. “They are so colorful and magical that they encourage you to do your own research and find out what this fairy tale is about,” he sums up.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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